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Mother "Sacrifices" Herself: Delays Cancer Treatment to Have Her Child

Posted May 13 2009 11:12pm
This is a sad but glorious story of selfless maternal/paternal love, but I think that at one time, it would have been the expected course: A doctor recounts the decision of a woman diagnosed with brain cancer to delay surgery in order to bring her baby to birth. From the story:

For the neurosurgeon, the verdict was clear: An immediate operation was needed to remove the growing tumor. The invasive and complicated surgery -- under many hours of general anesthesia -- was likely to greatly increase the risk of fetal injury or death...

The oncologist said that if the surgery were delayed until the child was ready for life outside the womb, the cancer would probably be untreatable. The obstetrician said that if the mother-to-be agreed to the recommended surgery and subsequent chemotherapy, the fetus was unlikely to survive. The woman was faced with a heartbreaking choice -- her own survival or her child's.

The young couple spoke quietly to each other in their native language for a few minutes as the specialists waited. Even I, who had chosen to study pediatrics because I loved children, reluctantly acknowledged that the woman's care was the medical priority. Wouldn't I -- wouldn't everyone? -- opt for life-saving intervention for myself? Wouldn't we all yield to the natural instinct to survive?

The young woman's voice was firm as she turned back to the specialists. She wanted to delay surgery for four weeks, until after her baby could be born with the odds in its favor.

No not everyone would. I have a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer during a pregnancy. She delayed treatment for several months until her child could be born. She died nine years later from the disease, never once regretting her decision.

Back to the doctor's reminiscence: The woman fell into a coma and the baby was delivered at 28 weeks. She had the tumor removed and lived long enough to see her baby:

One morning, a week later, I was overjoyed to see the young woman, her head shaved and bandaged, make her way into the NICU and approach her baby's incubator, step by careful step as she leaned on her husband's arm. After tenderly gazing at the tiny girl, she reached in to stroke her baby's soft, thin skin. Her hand inched toward her daughter's. The baby responded by clasping her mother's outstretched finger, bringing tears to her parents' eyes -- and ours. The new parents didn't need to know that the grasp was an involuntary reflex; to the young mother, it was a sign that her baby had felt her love.
The headline described the young woman as a "mother to be." That is flat-out wrong: S he was already a mother, which was why she decided that her baby's life was most important.
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